Posted by Sandeep Mittal, IPS on March 17, 2015
The term ‘Cyber Domain’ has been used widely by various experts, sometimes interchangeably with ‘Cyber Space’, to imply – “the global domain within the information environment that encompasses the interdependent networks of information technology infrastructures, including the internet and telecommunication networks” (Camillo & Miranda, 2011). Today it has become “the fifth domain of warfare after land, sea, air and space and its a challenge to have a common definition of cyber Domain” but for the purpose of this essay the definition given above would suffice. Any entity, whether it is a Nation State or an Enterprise, who operates in cyber domain need to maintain confidentiality, integrity and availability of its deployed resources. The dynamics of cyber domain is complex and complicated in time and space. The humans, machines, things and their interaction is evolving continuously to pose risks and opportunities in the cyber domain. The risk to someone becomes opportunity for the other. In this essay, the ‘risks presented by’ and ‘opportunities available in’ the cyber Domain would be identified, discussed and analyzed to consider key strategic policy elements to defend the cyber domain.
Risks and Opportunities in Cyber Domain
The ‘very low cost efforts’ giving asymmetric results coupled with anonymity in space and time makes the cyber domain attractive (Cyber Security Strategy of UK, 2009) for use by various actors for malicious objectives. This faceless and boundary less domain is highly dynamic and throwing surprises with rapidity and having the potential of causing damages (real and virtual) which are disproportionate to the resources deployed. Let us have a look at various realms in terms of risks associated with them.
- a) The information system platforms and the equipment supporting the cyber ecosystem is susceptible to conventional physical attacks. The electronic equipment can be subjected to destruction by generating High Energy Radio Frequencies and Electromagnetic Pulses.
- b) The services in the cyber- space may be disrupted by direct attack e.g. DoS, DDoS etc. This is the most common attack and has the potential to paralyze the lines of communication, bring down banking services and sabotage military operations. It has been deployed over the years not only by novice script kiddies but also sophisticated state sponsored agencies successfully. Botnets working round the clock have become a serious challenge.
- c) The sensitive data (in storage and on the move) may be accessed, stolen or manipulated to have the desired effect immediately or at a subsequent date. The technology and deployment methodology is evolving with time and simple malware tools have been replaced with complex, intelligent and well-crafted attacks generally known as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). The stealth, patience and dedicated consistency of APTs has the capability to bypass the best firewalls (including New Generation Firewalls) and Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems to exploit the Zero- Day- Vulnerabilities (Fire Eye White Paper, 2014).
The risks associated with various realms as discussed above may manifest themselves in various dimensions of the society like Civic Infrastructural Breakdown (e.g., failure of electric power grids, disruption of fuel pipelines, disruption of water supply chain etc.), Economy Disruption (e.g., disruption of banking services, business continuity and maintenance related costs), Social Behavioral Effects on Society (e.g., gambling, spamming, pornography, drugs supply, propagation of extremist ideology) and last but not the least hacking and intrusion into privacy, compromising the Nations Morale through use of social media leading to civic unrest and hampering diplomatic relations (e.g. Wiki Leaks ) and thus finally setting the stage for Cyber Warfare. Eventually, the Cyber Domain becomes a ‘means’ of most serious ‘end’, that is, the Cyber Warfare (Cornish et al, 2009). The ‘research-tool of yester- years’ has evolved into a strong medium of mass communication. In the Chatham Report titled ‘Cyberspace and the National Security of the United Kingdom, 2009, the concept of Cyber Threat Domains is introduced.
Let us have a look at the challenges and opportunities in Cyber security in terms of four ‘Cyber- Threat- Domains” (Cornish et al, 2009).
- a) ‘State-sponsored Cyber-attacks: The complete dependence of a Nation’s economy and critical infrastructure presents an opportunity to the ‘Nation States’ to deploy cyber- tools to gain information-dominance in cyber-domain to transmit information and denial/ restriction of such information to enemy state, as also the collection of tactical information. Going further, crippling a nation by paralyzing its critical infrastructure through deployment of stealthy and well-crafted tools to exploit ‘Zero-day-vulnerability’ is a matter of hours, and not even days. The use of Cyber attacks in raising the temperatures of furnaces in nuclear power plants and increasing the flow-speed of liquids in fuel pipelines may be used as weapons of mass- destruction.
The concepts of war-maneuvering have been compared with cyber-maneuver (Applegate 2012), where it is realized that blatantly hostile acts in cyber space are characterized by rapidity, anonymity and difficulty in attribution and are dispersed in space and time. Even the territory of enemy or one of his allies can be used to achieve desired asymmetric results.
- b) Cyber-Terrorism /Extremism –There is no other medium which is more powerful and anonymous than cyberspace, where asymmetric results can be achieved by deploying minimal resources with ease. The internet is an anarchic play ground or an ungoverned space, which can be exploited by extremists for communication and information sharing, designing strategies, conducting training for its members, procurement of resources, infiltrating State’s assets and forming alliances with organization having common objectives but different motivations. The use of social media by political extremists to propagate their ideology and take on the government machinery may spearhead insurgency by exploiting public sentiment.
- c) Serious and Organized Criminal Groups are exploiting the cyber space not only to maintain their criminal networks but also for money laundering, drug-trafficking, extortion, credit card frauds, industrial espionage etc. “In the cyber space, physical strength is insignificant […….] , strength is in software , not in numbers of individuals“ (Brenner, 2002). It poses a great challenge to the Law Enforcement Agencies to tackle Cyber- criminality. The need of operational level coordination with international LEAs can not be under stated as the existing mechanisms of MLAT etc have not given desired results. The thrust LEAs is on acquisition of hardware and software and the training of human resources is lacking.
- d) Lower –level Individual Attacks: are acts of individuals and may give results disproportionate to the skills deployed. These attacks may not be technologically advanced but have the capabilities to create panic and day to day disruptions. Sometimes fools pose great questions. Free availability of a number of hacking and penetration testing tools on internet assist the script kiddies to venture in the world of hacking.
Thus it is amply clear form the foregoing that the cyber domain presents unimaginable opportunities spread over space and time with rapidity, anonymity and almost no investments.
Policies to Address Cyber Defense
Any policy for cyber- defense has to be multipronged, tiered and dynamic. There are many approaches to decide upon the strategic policies. One is the systematic approach while the other is to keep the national security as the central theme and then weave other defenses around it. What should be the strategy for a secure Information Society? For the purpose of this essay we may define it as “the ability of a network or an information system to resist, at a given level of confidence, accidental events or malicious actions that compromise the availability authenticity, integrity and confidentiality of stored or transmitted data and the related services offered by or accessible via these networks and systems” (Commission of the European Communities, 2006). Though this is a network- system- centric definition, it is felt by author that, if this approach is taken care of, by the strategic policy, the other considerations would fall in line. The approach should not be like the example of the “elephant and the five blind men’ rather it should be an integrative approach to address various risks, issues and opportunities in the cyber domain. We would try to build up the key elements of the strategy which a strategic policy should address to defend the cyber domain. “The integrated application of cyberspace capabilities and processes to synchronize in real- time, ability to detect, analyze and mitigate threats and vulnerabilities, and outmaneuver adversaries, in order to defend designated networks is part of cyber defense strategy and includes proactive network operations, defensive counter cyber operations and defensive countermeasures” ( U.S Department of Defense, 2010 ). As policy should be general and broad, it would be beyond the scope of this essay to discuss procedures, details of technologies and processes associated with them and mechanisms to deploy them. We would be focusing rather on the key elements; a security policy should incorporate to achieve the objective of defending the cyber domain. It should incorporate the ground realities present in the scenario where policy would be applied.
The author has perused the summaries of the National Cyber Security Strategies of nineteen countries (Luijf, Besseling & Graaf, 2013) and based on them, tried to identify the key elements of the strategic policy to defend the cyber domain.
- a) Legislation/Legal Framework:
The cyber domain has no boundary. The various stakeholders and players may be spread all round the globe irrespective of national jurisdictions. Hence, a law which is progressive and aligned with international conventions on cyber-crime and Laws of the other nation states would be a basic requirement to defend the cyber domain. Additionally, the judiciary needs to be sensitized on various aspects of cyber law for better appreciation while dealing with such cases.
- b) Mandating the Security Standards:
Mandating the minimal security standards in information security is like preparing the ground before the seeds are sown. Security assurance measures for products ( ISO/IEC 15408), security assurance measures for development process (ISO /IEC 21827) , measures for Security Management (ISO/IEC 27001) etc should be implemented with Zero tolerance for non-compliance. Personnel expertise and knowledge should be mandated through professional certifications.
- c) Secure protocols, Soft wares and Products:
At present there is no system in place for ‘cyber-supply-chain-security-ratings’. This is a big loophole as these hardware and software , have to be frequently changed and have the potential of getting compromised thus putting the cyber- security at stake. These software and hardware become the gateway to attacks in the cyber domain.
- d) Active-Dynamic Security Measures for Prevention, Detection and Response Capabilities:
The technology of the malware and the methodology of its deployment in cyber-domain has radically evolved over the years. “The attacks are advanced, targeted, stealthy and persistent and cut across multiple threat vectors [web, email, file shares, and mobile devices ] and unfold in multiple stages, with calculated steps to get in , signal back out of the compromised network, and get the valuables out (Fire Eye White Paper, 2013). While firewalls, new generation firewalls , Intrusion Prevention Systems etc. are important security defenses, they can not stop dynamic attacks that exploit zero-day vulnerabilities. Hence integrated platforms having the capability to identify and block these sophisticated attacks, and thus safeguard their critical and sensitive assets. Attack Attribution Analysis should be deployed to identify the attackers (Lewis, 2014) . Zero Trust Model of Information Security also helps in reducing the attacks from digitally- signed-malware (IBM Forrester Research Paper, 2013).
- e) Threat and vulnerability Analysis: A detailed threat and vulnerability analysis of the resources should be maintained and updated periodically as per minimum At least a broad 3×3 matrix as per NIST FIPS 199 Standards is suggested. A risk- profile- dashboard should be kept ready. The assets which are critical need to be identified clearly and SOPs for their protection be put in place.
- f) Continuity and contingency Plans should be prepared and kept ready. Many nations are deploying in house “Government- off- the- shelf“ (GOTS) technology for sensitive defense and critical infrastructure systems. The attacks are inevitable but if the services are maintained, the confidence and trust of the stakeholders is vindicated. The Governments should also work towards a mechanism of Cyber Liability and Cyber Insurance which at present is generally lacking.
- g) Information Sharing: In most of the countries there is a mechanism to share information on security breaches and related developments by establishing Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). These national CERTs also interact with each other at international level. However , the author’s personal experience shows that many of the enterprises don’t share information on breaches in order to protect corporate image. Sometimes the security breaches may not be even known for months. There is an urgent need for devising a mechanism where reporting of security breaches should be made mandatory with penalties for non-compliance.
- h) Awareness, education and training: Practice makes a man perfect. Continuous awareness and educational campaigns for various stakeholders on dos and don’ts have to be run repeatedly. The training workshops for the workforce should be organized. We should always remember that the human behavior is the greatest risk to security and this risk can only be minimized by education and training only.
- i) Reforms in school and Collegiate Education: If cyber security as a subject is included in the school and college curricula, a ready cyber work force would be available to be deployed across various sectors. The online training courses in cyber security should be designed and incentives offered to workers, if they attend and successfully complete these courses.
International Collaboration:The cyber domain has no boundaries. The attacker sitting in one country using the system and resources of a second country may compromise a sensitive database in a third country. If there is no international collaboration, what ever strategy we may design, it is bound to fail. Although, there is a Regional Convention on Cyber Crime but unfortunately there is no such convention on cyber security [The Council of Europe (Budapest) convention on Cyber Crime, 2004]. There is a necessity for comprehensive international cooperation to sort-out issues regarding Jurisdiction, Mutual Assistance, Extradition , 24 / 7 Network etc ( Clough, 2013). However , personal experience of the author is that there is need to galvanize international cooperation, which is presently almost ineffective at operational level.
However, to achieve the desired objectives, the strategies need to be implemented through acquirement and effective allocation of sufficient resources through accountable responsibilities ( Ward & Peppard, 2002). But even if all this is done, the things will not turn out as desired ( Johnson & Scholes, 2002 ). Therefore a strategic management process that can adapt to changing scenarios during the implementation of original strategy is not a substitute for the original strategy but it’s a way of making it work.
The Cyber Domain by virtue of its unique characteristics of anonymity, availability and maneuverability in space and time, having no international borders , and capacity to give asymmetric results hugely disproportionate to the resources deployed, offers tremendous risks and opportunities for various stakeholders. It is rapidly expanding its scope from internet of human beings and machines to internet of things. It has the potential of disrupting a Nations economy, polity, civic and military infrastructure and last not the least, may lead to the cyber-warfare. Any policy and strategy to defend the Cyber Domain should be dynamic enough to adjust to the rapidly changing nature of attacks and technology. The futuristic scenarios like “Botnet of Things” have the potential of disrupting the normal life of humans. The strategic policy explained in this essay, if implemented, should take care of various aspects of defending the cyber domain. However, as the attacks, technologies and attackers evolve, the policy should also evolve with the same rapidity. The ‘unknown- unknown’ of the cyber domain is yet to be seen by the world.
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